By Kelvin Omachonu
The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar may go down as one of the most unpredictable ever World Cup tournaments. For the punters, it has been a nightmare. But for the neutrals, who only care about enjoying beautiful football it has been quite an interesting showpiece.
It is a case of so far so good for the host country Qatar, as the organization has been solid. Despite the initial fears about Qatar’s rigid nature and human rights issues, the tournament has been quite brilliant.
In this edition of the Mundial, there have been many shockers. While some of the big boys have managed to stay afloat, others were taken unawares. In fact, since 1994, this is the first World Cup tournament to see no side win all three of their group games. Only four of the 16 remaining teams did not lose any of their group-stage games. Going into the tournament, some teams were expected to make a mark. However, some of the expectations amounted to naught, as some teams flattered to deceive despite the big names.
Germany emerged as World Champions in 2014 but since then, they have lost their mojo. Die Mannschaft was eliminated in the group stages of the last World Cup, but they were expected to redeem themselves in Qatar with a new-look team tutored by Hansi Flick. Unfortunately, Germany failed to take the initiative. They were drawn against Spain, Costa Rica, and Japan.
When the draws were made, Germany alongside Spain was the favorite to progress because of the kind of quality that they possess. However, that was not the case, as Germany began their campaign on a very poor note, losing 2-1 to Japan. They secured a 1-1 draw against Spain in their second game to keep their hopes of qualifying alive. Unfortunately for Germany, they won their final group game against Costa Rica but Spain lost to Japan, and the result ensured that they were brutally knocked out because of their inferior goal difference.
Another team that performed way below expectations was Belgium. The Red Devils were certainly not one of the favorites to win the Mundial, but they were expected to give a push considering the players on the side. However, they failed with flying colours. Belgium beat Canada by a lone goal in their first game, but it was a very close game, and Canada could have gotten a result from the game if they took their chances.
Morocco then shocked them in their second game, beating the Red Devils 2-0 to give them a rude awakening. Belgium needed a win in their final game against Croatia to seal passage to the next round, but they couldn’t come up with the goods as they played out a goalless draw which sent them packing from the tournament.
At the last World Cup in Russia, Belgium scored nine goals. But this year, they managed just one strike. Michy Batshuayi failed to make his presence felt in attack, Romelu Lukaku was misfiring, and maestro Eden Hazard has been in and out of the treatment table in recent months. In fact, most of the top players that Roberto Martinez took to the World Cup are already in the twilight of their careers.
Finally, the third biggest flop at the World Cup is Denmark. Ranked 10th in the FIFA rankings, the Danes were expected to have a good run against Australia and Tunisia, but they were abysmal. Denmark finished rock bottom of Group D with just one point.
Whilst some teams were poor by their standards, others performed beyond all expectations. Morocco shocked the world when they beat Belgium 2-0, and that set them up for a first-place finish- the first time an African team would accomplish much at the World Cup since Nigeria did it in 1994.
Asides from their position, Morocco was impressed with their play, their transition play was very effective, and the combination of Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech on the right was a big problem for opponents. They play Spain in the next round, and they will fancy their chances against La Furia Roja who finished second in Group E after losing 2-1 to Japan in their final group game.
Japan was also a phenomenal side from the group stage. The Samurais are fast building a reputation of being comeback kings at the 2022 World Cup. They claimed big scalps in the group stage, coming from behind to defeat Germany and Spain by the same 2-1 scoreline. Progressing from the group stage is not a new thing for Japan, as they have reached the knockout rounds in three of their last six appearances at the World Cup. However, beating Spain and Germany in a similar fashion is what makes this year’s achievement special.
Japan’s Asian neighbors South Korea were also impressive in the group stages. They gave a good account of themselves with their dogged and determined play. They gave Uruguay a good run for their money in their first fixture. They lost to Ghana in their second game, but it was a match that was decided by the finest of margins. It looked like South Korea was down and out in their final game against Portugal, but they dig deep to produce a 2-1 win that sealed their qualification for the round of 16.
The round of 16 games began on Saturday and some of these teams could be sent home, but they can bask in the pride of what they achieved from the group stages and the big scalps that they claimed.